Saturday, 21 June 2008

Creating lovable characters

There's a bit of a discussion going on in my writing community about the reasons agents and editors give for rejecting a novel. The one that seems to crop up most often is a variation on the following:
  • "I just didn't fall in love with the main character"


  • "I didn't warm to the main character enough"

So it seems that's what's very, very important in Women's Fiction is creating a main character that the reader falls in love with.

But what makes a warm, lovable character and how do you create one when you're writing?

I'm stumped...

So come on. Help a girl out. Think about your favourite WF or chicklit character and tell me why you loved her so much.

(and if you've got any link to online articles on this subject please post them into the comments).

Thanks v much!


Leatherdykeuk said...

Whatever their primary characteristic (scatty, soppy, whatever) they must have an underlying strength in adversity.

(you can thank DK for that one)

Yvonne said...

One that comes to mind is Rachel from Rachel's Holiday. She is funny but vulnerable, observational but deluded, amused yet unhappy underneath. She's very complex, and I liked the way I experienced the big realisation and change in her character with her. I also loved Elaine from Cat's Eye too, so honest and upfront about her mistakes and frailties, and I fell in love with her story too.

Calistro said...

Leather - thanks (and to DK too). That's very interesting.

Yvonne - that's really useful, particularly about Rachel. What I was reading yesterday suggested giving your character flaws but 'forgivable' flaws and 'vulnerable and deluded' are in my opinion. Excellent, thanks.

Lane said...

Difficult question as we all fall in love with odd people:-)

I think they need to have some facets of their character that we can identify with so we can say 'oh I feel like that' and 'I'd do something stupid like that too'.
They've got to feel like they are someone you'd like to be friends with.

Lane said...

They've also got to care about other people. There's nothing worse than a totally self-absorbed character. I don't know if you've read Hens Dancing by Raffaella Barker. The main character Venetia was quite vulnerable and likable. However by the second book she was so self absorbed and silly, I could hardly finish it. They've got to care passionately about something other than themselves.

A. Writer said...

That's such a difficult question. I've read tons of chick lit and WF and I don't think I've ever thought about it!

I think it's important to relate to the character; characters that the readers will go 'Ah, yep, been there-done that!'

The character has have flaws but nothing too big that they can't be sorted. Maybe a little bit stubborn where the readers want to reach into the book and help guide them along.

I agree with Lane - I think characters have to be someone you can be friends with. Think about when you were a school there was always that one really popular girl that everyone wanted to be friends with... what did she have that made her popular?

I'll have a think and I might add more later!

L-Plate Author said...

Very interesting for me Cally, as I'm sometimes told that my book one isn't any different than other books, so if you do a character well, it has already been done before and is too similar!

Women can only go through so many certain things that other women will connect with and as they have all been covered before where does that leave us? x

KAREN said...

I love a character who gets things wrong and makes me laugh (with her, not at her) and is a bit out of step with modern life, but do agree that she must have underlying strength no matter what. I'm really liking the main character in Bernadette Strachan's 'Little White Lies' at the moment.

A. Writer said...

I've had a wee think.

My favourite characters that spring to mind are one's written by Katie Fforde. The majority of her stories all very similar in structure and content but the characters are different.

I think that's what I like about Katie Fforde's writing. Her characters make her stories different. She has a certain something to keep her fans reading - and if her stories are all very similar then her characters must stand out.

Calistro said...

That's great Lane, Karen Lplate and A.Writer thanks so much. So, from the comments so far we've got:

1) They must have underlying strength in adversity
2) They should be complex
3) They should have faults but not terrible ones that turn us off them
4) They should be someone we would want to be friends with
5) They should be caring
6) They should be someone we can identify with/relate to ("been there, done that"
7) They should be noticably different from other characters we've read in women's fiction
8) They gets things wrong
9) They make us laugh (with her)

This is all incredibly helpful and my mind is ticking!

A.Writer - Can you put your finger on what it is about Katie Fforde's characters that makes you love them so much?

Jumbly Girl said...

This has really got me thinking Calistro as I'm not sure that the main character in my novel is the strongest. I think I need to develop her more so that she's not just, well, me basically. I love the 'strength in adversity' theme and also the getting the balance right on her flaws.

Thanks everyone for some really helpful comments :o)

A. Writer said...

I can't really put my finger on it. I suppose she writes her characters as if they are her target audience, as if the characters themselves would read the book (hope that makes sense!)

Her characters are always positive, witty, can laugh when something embarrassing happens to them. A little bit dim when it comes to the hero.

edson_dias said...

Is it really that difficult to create a lovable character? I'm not a trained writer nor do I belong to any writers club. I'm a photographer who recently started painting without thinking. I just scribble with both my hands & later analyze the painting & write short stories that relate to the painting. I posted my first story a couple of day back. read it & let me know what you'll think about the character.

womagwriter said...

What a fascinating discussion! I like A.Writer's comments about Katie Fforde's characters (though must admit I haven't read any of her books) - the characters being the kind of people who might read the books.

Can you turn this on its head, think of your target reader, and turn them into a character?

Fiona said...

Just to add my thoughts - or rather the thoughts of those who kindly looked at my WIP.

My protagonist was too whiney. I had thought it would make people say, 'Oh yes, I can relate to that' but a character who is too self absorbed is a turn off. She has to worry about others as much as or more than herself. Apparently:)

Calistro said...

Fiona - yeah, that's something that came up in someone else's critique. Whiney = bad. When I realised that I had to go back and re-read the first few thousand words of novel #2 and edit them to make my MC less whiney. I still don't think she's loveable but that's something I'll look at when I've finished the first draft.

Womag - yeah, I've been thinking about that a lot or, more specifically, what kind of character a read would love.

Edison - hello! Thanks for popping by. I'll take a look at your blog v soon.

Calistro said...

A.Writer - I think 'positive' is an important character attribute. Fiona's 'whiney' comment is almost the opposite isn't it. Someone who's whiney is probably quite a negative person. Hmmm...lots to think about here.

Chad said...

This has been an interesting and helpful discussion. I am just getting into writing, and while I don't do WF, I do try to make lovable characters.

Very interesting comment about "characters who would like to read the book".

Rampage said...

Quirks. Human-like quirks. Make sure that the character is well developed and relatable to us. A few examples of quirks I can think of are:
*hating the sound of a pop can opening
*having to quote pop culture references
*being extremely ticklish
*being afraid of ladybugs